Graça, Desgraça, & Tapas

I am not a stickler for routine but am definitely a sentimental fool! Hey, cancerians are like that and stick to it – by hook or by crook! So when when my daughter said she would pick me up the office yesterday, just like she used to in Berlin, it was such a joy! In the eyes of some, this is an insignificant thing, but for two people so attached to one another as Maike and I are, this is a grand gesture.

We began our evening with after-work beers in what Germans would refer to as the Stammtisch or Filipinos call a tambayan, the favourite hangout with your buddy. The need to share as much of my life here as possible is huge, because I know I will have to wait a while before I see her again. More importantly, I wanted her to meet those who matter most to me. So sharing family stories during such moments becomes much more than just nostalgia, but more like going through the treasured archives. It occurred to me at that moment that I have taken on the roles my parents used to have when I was younger, the keeper of the traditions and family lore that was handed down from one generation to another, and Maike will eventually pass down to her children someday.

Next, we hopped on the bus to Graça, my old stomping ground, to forage a Portuguese dinner, which I knew was definitely not going to be a problem in that area! In fact, food in general, is never a problem in Lisbon. It is your own fault if you go hungry in this city because of the mind-boggling amount of cafes and restaurants who compete for your attention and pavement space! The more popular dives were overflowing with people, so we walked around until something caught our attention, a little tapas place called Desgraça. Now for you spanish-speakers out there, the portuguese graça is not at all what it sounds like in spanish, grease. Rather, it means grace, so the word desgraça translates into disgrace, which is hilarious for a restaurant name. Allow me to let you in on a secret, Desgraça is anything but that. On the contrary, the service is impeccable, the tapas divine, the sangria addictive, and the atmosphere picture-perfect. A Shakespearean midsummer evening with my daughter at the very heart of Lisbon, The Bard would have been proud of us!

Midsummer Tapas ©FrogDiva Photography

Just when we were finishing up, a man approached us, asking for a handout, whatever change he could spare. He spoke in impeccable English and was clearly not a local, or at least had not spent his life in Portugal, and was not faking the accent either. I read people very well, especially when I look into their eyes, (a skill I perfected over the years and has rarely failed me and the few times it did, it was an epic failure!), and there was something about this man that I just couldn’t let go, so I started interviewing him. A fallen sommelier from Sydney of Portuguese origin who became a workaholic alcoholic and fell from grace both professionally and in his personal life. He lost everything to the bottle, and somehow found himself in Portugal, away from friends and family, especially his daughters whom he loves above all else. He has been sober for over a year now, clawing his way back up to gather enough money for a new passport and ticket to fly back home. Ironic that he was telling his woeful tale at Desgraça, and both Maike and I identified with this man’s story so I shared a bit of my own journey through the darkness, to give him a bit of hope. Once you hit rock bottom, I told him, there is nowhere else to go but back up. So when I shook his hand and slipped him a bill, I promised to check up on him in Sydney one day. Rui Marques, Master Sommelier, I will hold you to that promise and find you where you said you would be!

Maike wanted the full Portuguese experience, so Lisbon rose to the ocassion with a three-day transportation strike. It was a challenge getting to work as usual during a strike, but we managed to find our way back to Villa Franca without a hitch, thanks to reticent Uber driver who used to live there before. It was an unforgettable evening in many ways. No regrets, no surrenders, simply… grace.

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